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Is This What They Meant by the First Social Media Olympics?

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It is just one week into the London 2012 Olympic Games, but there has already been a tidal wave of headlines about what is happening in the world of social media at the games. While IOC officials heralded the first social media Olympics before the games, they probably expected that our attention would be focused squarely on just how much activity there would be on these platforms.

Instead, Twitter stories have dominated some of the main headlines of the hames. Indeed, the first of these took place some months ago when USOC athlete Nick Symmonds used eBay to auction space on his arm to raise sponsorship for his participation at the games. The winner would have their twitter name tattooed on his arm. The only problem was that the IOC would never have allowed such advertising within the athletics stadium. Still, it was a very smart marketing campaign, signalling how the world is changing as a result of social media.

More recently, the London 2012 Festival launched an event with Mayor of London Presents called Surprises Streb, a radical stunt dance company from New York, who traversed London iconic structures for one day. They used Twitter exclusively as the marketing tool for the event, only releasing information 24 hours before it happened and relying on twitter users to spread the word. All locations were packed.

A few nights before the Opening Ceremony, #savethesurprise was trending on Twitter, as Danny Boyle asked spectators at the rehearsals to not use Twitter to share content until after the Ceremony had been broadcast. This may be the first time in history that a hashtag was trending about nothing!

Also days before the Games began, Chair of LOCOG Seb revealed concerns about athletes tweeting around competition time, claiming that he could see a negative correlation between social media activity and athletic success. One could just imagine Lord Coe rolling his eyes when a Greek Olympian was expelled from the Olympics by the Hellenic Olympic Committee, for what was deemed to be a racist tweet.

On the night of the opening ceremony, not only did Tim Berners-Lee's invention of the Internet frame a large part of the ceremony, he even tweeted live from the event. The following day, a Twitter faux pas by Tory minister Aiden Burley created a storm after he said the ceremony was a 'leftie multicultural crap'. Prime Minister David Cameron later said - but not via Twitter - it was an idiotic thing to say.

The ceremony also gave birth to #NBCfail, as criticisms of the USA's media coverage of the ceremony received countless criticisms over the talkative commentators and the cutting of Akram Khan's beautiful dance section. The latest victim of this is the British journalist Guy Adams whose account has been suspended from twitter for sharing the email of NBC bosses Gary Zenkel and encouraging people to email their complaints.

One day into the Games and the IOC Head of Communications Mark Adams asks Tweeters to limit their output, as it is claimed that a failure in broadcasting the cycling road race was due to a throttled GPS signal on the streets of London, which negatively affected the RFID chips within the bikes.

Last but not least, after Tom Daley's disappointing performance at the synchronised diving, a Twitter troll criticises him saying how his performance lets down his now deceased father. The reaction by other twitter users was immense, at least revealing that it does no good to abuse others in social media.

Where does this leave us? A week before the Games began, the IOC's Head of Social Media, Alex Huot called this the first 'Social Media Olympics'. Technically, Vancouver 2010 has more right to this claim, but Canada's Games did not see the range of social media headlines that have come to characterise London 2012.

So what has London learned so far about this so-called Socialympics? Perhaps most surprising is that the headlines aren't about how many people are using social media or Twitter. At least, these aren't the most interesting stories.

Instead, social media usage at London 2012 has re-opened the public sphere and become a place where serious issues are played out. This may not be the first social media Olympics, but it is the first where what took place online has genuinely become part of the news cycle in politically important ways.

Unfortunately, many of the examples thus far may breed greater conservatism for social media users, as many individuals have been caught out saying things they are likely to regret.

However, the social media genie is well and truly out of the bottle and the IOC may need to think about making Facebook or Twitter part of their Worldwide sponsor programme if they really hope to come to terms with this revolution.

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